By Stephanie Ashton Anthony
A swimming pool is not just a place to cool off in the summer time. In the case of Eden Park a swimming pool is at the heart of Eden Park’s history. During segregation there was no swimming pool in the community. The public pool was at city park , a group of young people including a bold female went to the pool with their suits, towels and money to swim. Pearl George later became the first black female city councilwoman but she never swam in the pool. She was arrested that day and later the pool was bulldozed and filled with dirt rather than have black skin get wet and cool off in it. It is one civil rights battle in Baton Rouge from the past that some natives want to erase. Decades later Eden Park got its own pool across from what had been Capitol Elementary School, built along with 2 other schools to insure the large population of black children in Eden Park would be separate but equal located on what was then Capitol Avenue.
By the time Eden Park had its own swimming pool Capitol Avenue was renamed for one of 3 black men in East Baton Rouge Parish who was allowed to register to vote. He was a member of the NAACP and the Bi Racial Committee his name was Gustav Young. Long after his death his nephew Louis Jetson led a campaign to have Capitol Ave. named for him. Later Louis Jetson became the first Louisiana State Legislator from Eden Park.
The park and the pool was called Gus Young and sat between Capitol Elementary and Capitol Junior High. Capitol Elementary was demolished. Capitol Junior High School had been the original Capitol Senior High the 2nd black high school built in Baton Rouge because McKinley Senior High was becoming over crowded with black students traveling to the capitol city for an education. Later to the shock and amazement of many citizens of Eden Park the historic building was demolished.
Fast forward to 2015, the subject of a closed pool may be more than what it seems on the surface. The Gus Young swimming pool is closed. Councilwoman C.Denise Marcells’ office says it will not open this summer. Back in 2013 the pool was closed. The Times Picayune quoted BREC Superintendent as stating, a circulation line beneath the pool would not meet health standards. She went on to say, “The health and safety of our patrons is paramount to BREC and we will comply with health codes,” BREC Superintendent Carolyn McKnight said in a statement. At the time there were 39 kids who had signed up for swimming lessons. They were referred to other parks and the A.C. Lewis YMCA in the hopes the pool would be repaired for the following summer.
During the same period BREC opened Liberty Lagoon Waterpark on Lobdell Avenue at great expense. The new water park charged $8 for anyone less than 4 feet tall and $10 for people over 4 feet tall. Community pools charged about $1.25 per person for any height. Children’s advocate Eldwin “Bobby” Burns has been diligently pushing to reopen the Gus Young pool. The Anna T. Jordan pool was closed for repairs about the same time but has since been repaired.
The BREC office stated that they had done a study and will not reopen the pool, rather than repair of the pool; the study done over the past 6 months was to demolish the old pool at a cost of $370,560 and replace it with something else . Sources say the decision was made a month ago however community workers either do not know or are not saying anything about a plan to demolish the pool.
BREC’s 2015 budget is $96 million dollars, Burns says with a budget like that why can’t the poor children in Eden Park have a pool at Gus Young. The BREC is now comprised of 221 athletic fields, 181 parks, 33 miles of trails, 60 recreation centers, seven golf courses, five dog parks, four swimming pools, three skate parks, an aquatic center, an archery range, a tiger exhibit, and a BMX.